There is a district in west-central Beirut known as
Es-Sanayeh, a plural word meaning the Arts and Crafts,
for which now , however, there are schools in every
corner of Lebanon.
But this quarter was also known for quite a long time
for its free hospital, the first no doubt of its kind
since it belonged to the State. In front of the old
building which gave its name to the area there was
a large public garden maintained by the authorities
where many would come to relax, absorb some refreshments,
do a little reading, or have a quiet smoke in the
cool shade of the trees and shrubs. The hospital building
was put up during the time of the “mutassarefs” late
in the nineteenth century when Lebanon was ruled by
governors under the Sublime Porte, who were placed
over the country by multinational agreement. At present
it is occupied by a faculty of the Lebanese University.
The garden with its varied woodland trees was a favorite
meeting-place where one could wile away the time,
relax and take a rest on the way between Tallet al-Khayat
and Hamra Street. It stood on a low rise in the ground
and the many people taking advantage of the pleasant
surroundings could get served by the many vendors
of lemonade, buns, “manoushes”, sweets and fruit.
Unfortunately this garden, the oldest in Beirut, suffered
much damage during the violence of the later years
of the twentieth century. Its upkeep was neglected,
quite a few missiles fell there, and one could see
trees withered, broken and surrounded by rubbish.
The garden in fact had lost nearly all its charm.
Even now, this site of some 22,000 square meters,
donated by the Tabara family in 1900 and now surrounded
by high buildings , is the largest plot of verdure
in Beirut with the exception of the Pine Forest.
The garden was laid out in 1909 during the reign of
Sultan Abdel Hamid and originally bore his name but
later came to be called the Sanayeh. It was conceived
as a garden in the French style, with symmetry, order,
infrastructure and everything to suit the public pleasure:
paths, alleys, pleasant views, benches, fences, and
a variety of trees and shrubs.
After the criminal assassination of President René
Muawad on November 22nd, 1989, the authorities decided
to restore the garden to its pristine condition, so
it was replanted and certain improvements carried
out. Since then the garden has been maintained by
the City Council, with irrigation, tidying, cleaning,
turning the soil, manuring, and pest control.
When the monument dedicated to the murdered prime
minister Ryad es-Solh was put up in the square named
after him, the fountain it replaced, work of the architect
Yussef Aftimos, was transported and erected in the
Sanayeh Garden. As this meant carrying out certain
work, the garden was for a time closed to the public;
but in 2012 work was resumed and the site transformed,
thanks to donations totaling 4.5 million US dollars
from Holding Azadea, NGOs, Liban Roots and associations
for the preservation of forests.
In 2014 the garden was opened again to the public
and with its transformation became like any garden
in Europe. There are children’s playgrounds, paths
for jogging and cycling, an amphitheater, exhibition
halls, a stone wall bearing the names of famous Lebanese,
fountains, and watered flower-beds, which attract
many poor people from densely populated areas. Along
a large stretch of the garden there are shops and
booths bearing the Sanayeh name such as Sanayeh Flowers,
and selling coffee, sandwiches, and souvenirs, and
even a pharmacy.
New trees have been planted and clean toilets have
been installed. A number of security guards protect
the garden from undesirable elements, the lawns and
fountains are carefully maintained, and areas are
kept free for children’s games. There is also question
of integrating historical remains such as ancient
columns, to be provided by the antiquities services.
The shrubberies have been planted in a decorative
way around the fountain.
Such gardens are a blessing for people obliged to
live surrounded by towering buildings in the form
of concrete blocks. Before Word War II the whole of
Lebanon was like one great public park, a lush green
garden, eighty percent of the land being farmland
or woodland. In the space of fifty years, all this
has been trampled down, with woodland and verdure
all but vanished. The environment is becoming ever
harsher. So let us strive to save our trees, our Lebanon,
and increase the stretches of greenery inside our
towns. There are cities in France such as Besançon
where the green zones cover more than seventy percent
of the land within their boundaries, whereas in Beirut
there are whole streets without a single flower to
be seen. Alas!
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer
Garden and Park
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